In the Fall 2019 issue of DTS Magazine, I was quite interested to see an article by Drs. Darrell Bock and Benjamin Simpson, entitled, “Minding the Gap: Orality, Memory, & the Gospels” (pp. 8-11).
The gap alluded to in the title is the time between Jesus’ ministry and the writing of the Gospels, thirty years or so. The authors defend the view that the Gospel writers had excellent memories and were able to “preserv[e] the core of the described events” (p. 9).
Bock and Simpson reject the idea that the Gospel accounts are like what happens when people play the telephone game (passing a message orally from one person to the next, so that with each new person the message is garbled more and more).
Their position is that the Gospel accounts are like the retelling of ancient stories by Bedouins in the Middle East. While “a story’s details could vary, the retelling could not change its core” (p. 10). Concerning the Gospels, they say, “The details of the Gospel accounts might not match exactly, but the story’s point remains intact.”
The authors suggest that the Gospel writers told the stories about what Jesus did and said repeatedly over the course of thirty years. Therefore, they did not simply try to remember things three decades later. They were drawing on accounts they had given in churches hundreds of times.
Up to this point in their article, Bock and Simpson seem to be suggesting that the authors took some liberty with the actual wording of what Jesus said, but that they got the core details just right. However, toward the end of the article, they seem to suggest that the Gospel writers got the wording absolutely right, word perfect. They write, “Seeing how events could have been passed on, where repetition and multiple witnesses would have been involved, then one can see how God may have made it possible to recall what Jesus taught (John 14:26)” (p. 11). In the last paragraph, they say that the Spirit “guarantee[d] the truthfulness and historicity of the full text” (p. 11). However, in the sentence after that one, the authors say that unbelievers can “trust the core text.”
Do the Gospel accounts give the core of what Jesus said? Yes. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that whenever they are quoting what Jesus said in Greek (rather than paraphrasing or translating Him)—and recent studies suggest that a great amount of what He said was in Greek— they are quoting Him word perfect (ipsissima verba in Latin). And when they paraphrase or translate Him, then they give a 100% accurate paraphrase or translation.
Whether the gap was thirty minutes or thirty years, the Holy Spirit guaranteed that the Gospels would be 100% accurate. Of course, the entire Bible is. God is true. And so is His Word.